“Reading” between the Without Lines

By Kathryn Comment

Among the questions facing audio book connoisseurs are: Which is better suited to the format, fiction or nonfiction? Can a bad narrator ruin a great book? If you’ve listened to a book, have you really “read” it?

Many of the audio book fans quoted in this NYT piece say listening does, in fact, count as reading. But, asked about their least favorite books-on-tape (or books-on-CD/mp3/whatever), they’re quick to seperate the experience of listening from the experience of judging, presumably reserving the latter for books they’ve read sans-quotation-marks:

A book about string theory by the physicist Brian Greene proved entirely unable to hold [Rich] Cohen’s auditory attention, as did “Hamlet.” With “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance,” however, he had the multitasking satisfaction of digesting a book he had always been curious about but did not want to devote the time to actually reading.

Charlton Heston reading “The Snows of Kilimanjaro” proved a dud […] “You keep waiting for him to announce that Kilimanjaro’s been taken over by damned dirty talking apes,” [David] Lipsky said. “Now it’s hard to read ‘Kilimanjaro’ without hearing Heston’s voice.”

The novelist Sue Miller said she prefers Henry James on tape because the narrator has untangled the complex sentences for her. But she found D. H. Lawrence unbearable. His notoriously repetitive prose “doesn’t lend itself to an auditory experience,” she said.